A Speech Presented at the Norwegian Pen Center

By Majid Naficy

On November 22, 1998 after hearing of the murder of two Iranian dissidents Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, who were stabbed to death by the secret police at their home in Tehran, I wrote this poem, called “Dagger” in Los Angeles:

Oh dagger
If only you had rebelled
Against the hand!

You ripped their chests
And cut their tongues
So that a single voice would remain.
You forgot that one who only listens
To one's own voice
Is a madman, oh no!
But a desperate tyrant.

Let all tongues speak
Let all pens seek
So that Dialogue will replace sermon
And beauty prevail.

Oh dagger
You look more beautiful
In your sheath. 

Why does the poet address the dagger? Why not the murderer? And more importantly, why not the murdered? If the poet speaks with the murderer, then he will open the door of anger. He can urge the reader to challenge a regime in which for the political opposition there is nothing but prison, torture and execution. However, if the poet speaks with the murdered, he will demonstrate his sorrow for the loss of dear ones. He will explain the ethical supremacy of the martyred and will urge the reader to defend their causes .

Yet the poet does neither take the road of epic nor the path of elegy. Instead, he addresses the dagger which although it is a tool for murder but by itself is harmless. If the poet wants to take the path of anger and revenge, he will naturally address the murderer, that is, the user of the dagger and not the lifeless instrument. But he does not want the dagger to become the vehicle of his anger and hit the murderer’s heart. On the contrary, he wishes that at the time of the crime the dagger had rebelled against the murderer and disobeyed his command. In other words, the poet does not want to retaliate and respond to the anger of the killers with anger and murder with murder. No! He imagines the creation of a society in which people are not killed because of their beliefs, and the logic of words is used against words.

The next two lines allude to the words of the commander-in-chief of the Islamic Guards who sometime before the murder of dissenting intellectuals in Iran, the Forouhars,

Mohammad Mokhtari, Mohammad-Jafar Pooyandeh and... threatened the opposition with those words.. The goal of this bloody crackdown was to secure the survival of a monophonic system in my homeland. The theocratic regime considers its subjects a flock of sheep in need of a shepherd called “vali-e faqih” or “clerical guardian”. In this system there is no room for debate or tolerance and all citizens are obliged to listen to one Voice. It allegedly belongs to God but comes out the mouth of the Guardian.

If the poet addresses the murdered, he will travel the path of elegy and as a result the poem would be filled with sorrow. The poet does not choose this path, but if he does will he be successful? Speaking with the martyred and about them requires familiarity with the victims. Did the poet know the Forouhars?

Once I saw Dariush Forouhar in a gathering when he was the Minister of Labor in 1979. Unemployed workers and the leftist intellectuals had gathered at University of Industry in Tehran in order to force the Provisional Revolutionary Government to implement an unemployment benefit plan. At that time I saw him as an enemy. I thought that his participation in Bazargan Cabinet and Khomeini regime would block the revolutionary passion of the people. I knew that he was the founder of Party of the Iranian Nation.

During the Shah’s time in the ‘60s he was incarcerated because of his opposition to the independence of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. In recent years I heard the voice of Dariush and his wife, Parvaneh a few times from Tehran  interviewed on telephone by 24-hour-Persian Radio at Los Angeles, and was surprised by their bold criticism of the regime. However, it was only after their murders that I became to some extent closer to them. Just by chance, I spent a night with their son, Arash in San Francisco. Through his words and also their family album, I could see Dariush and Parvaneh not as members of a political group but rather as two human individuals. I saw the pretty picture of their wedding in which they were standing proudly side by side, as well as a photo of Dariush bleeding from his head at the gathering of “National Front”, a few months before the 1979 Revolution. They were beaten by the pro Shah vigilante mob.

When I heard that the Forouhars were murdered for a while I could not speak with or write about them. My mind had blocked my feelings. Like a censor it crossed out their names asking me: How do you want to speak about a man who had previously been a “Pan Iranist” and then a minister in the Provisional Government of Khomeini? My mind had still remained in the year 1979: I was a devoted independent Marxist, self-righteous and intolerant of other’s beliefs and he was a Liberal Nationalist dreaming of “the great Iran”. Was I not the victim of a censor inside who suppressed my natural empathy toward the victims of a brutal regime? If a leftist and a nationalist both advocate Human Rights then why can they not stand side by side against the theocracy and in spite of their ideological differences tolerate one another? Perhaps moved by the murder of the Forouhars I was finally able to open a door to myself and in the form of poetry rebel against my internal censor. The second stanza of the poem is still addressing the dagger but at the same time it challenges that self righteous Marxist housed previously within the Poet. Freedom of expression is the basis of Human Rights and democratic governments. In order to reach the relative truth there is no alternative except debate and tolerance toward the opposite views. No group of elite, civilian or religious, should exclude other people from the process of discovering the truth.

Daggers must be sheathed and pens should be taken out. Will desperate tyrants who have no word except dagger, be able to hear this message? The people on the street will not wait for them.

        March 8, 1999

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